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Passport to Paris

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    Metropolis Magnifique


    Arriving in Paris can feel a bit like stepping through the canvas and into the fanciful world of a beautiful painting. Everywhere you look there is visual poetry, from the charming street scenes to the idyllic parks, grand architecture, and iconic landmarks. It’s no wonder the city has attracted and inspired artists for centuries. But regardless of how many artistic geniuses Paris has hosted or how many world-famous canvases hang on the walls of its stellar museums, Paris isn’t just a center for art–the city is a work of art in and of itself. How you spend your time here depends on how you want to frame it.

    The Seine River, which bisects the city, is like a tributary of nostalgia. Whether you land on its bohemian Left Bank or elegant Right Bank, around every corner lie the remnants of another era. An afternoon spent at the Musée du Louvre will sweep you back into the grandeur of Old Masters like Botticelli, Carvaggio, and Da Vinci. If you want to revel in that Old World vibe, you might check in at the Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris, where everything from the marble and gold lobby filled with fine art to the gilt-infused treatments at the George V Spa references 18th century opulence. Or head over to Le Meurice to feast like a Versailles royal at Restaurant le Meurice or channel a courtly fête over cocktails at Bar 228. And don’t forget that fashion is an art in Paris–snag some pieces from “Old Masters” at classic flagships like Chanel and Hermès or at vintage couture purveyor Didier Ludot.

    A trip to the Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie will no doubt put you in the romantic mindset of the Impressionist artists featured there. From Monet’s Nympheas (water lily paintings) to Renoir’s landscapes, you might be inspired to commune with Paris’s natural beauty at Jardin du Luxembourg or Jardin des Tuileries. Or, enhance your own beauty with help from Mother Nature at earthy spas like the all-organic L’Appartement 217 or Spa NUXE, whose luscious treatment products are culled from exotic plants. You can just imagine an Impressionist wanting to set up his or her easel at Relais Christine, an atmospheric hotel set in a former abbey (especially in the top-floor suites with private garden terraces).

    Wending your way through the artistic enclaves of Montparnasse and Montmartre, you might feel the clock turn back to the 1920s, when expat artists and writers made Paris their creative mecca. To revisit those decadent times, have a sumptuous cocktail at Le Bar Hemingway (a haunt for the namesake writer and his cohorts) or practice your own prose or sketches over a café au lait at Café de Flore. Cue the crisp tablecloths and harried waiters at classic bistros like Chez Georges and Le Comptoir du Relais. If you fancy yourself a true baguette-carrying bohemian, ditch the traffic and coast through the city on a bike from Vélib’.

    Though painters like Picasso and Dalí were contemporaries of the 1920s crowd, their art zoomed into the future with experimental movements like Cubism and Surrealism. After twisting your brain around samples of their work at the Centre Pompidou, you might be in the mood for a taste of the avant-garde. The Asian fusion chefs at Restaurant Hiramatsu and L’Atelier du Joël Robuchon create mind-bending art on the plate, while the ultra-modern designers featured at LE66 and Colette do so on the rack. Your skin will feel surreally smooth after a visit to high-tech spas like the Dior Institut au Plaza Athénée and L'Espace Payot. Paint the town in your color of choice at Le Bar du Plaza Athénée, with its cool, azure-tinted “blue hours” and hot, ruby-lit “red hours.” Turn in for the night at old-meets-new L'Hôtel de Sers, an aristocratic manor house decked out in modern minimalism.

    The Musée National d’Art Moderne, housed in the top two floors of the Centre Pompidou, showcases the trendy but laidback ethos of contemporary pop artists like Andy Warhol. In keeping with this vibe, you might want to join the cool kids at lounges like Andy Wahloo (a clever variant on the artist’s name) and Experimental Cocktail Club. Dine alongside the bobos (bourgeois-bohemians) at derrière or Le Fumoir, and be sure to dress the part with a shopping trip to Canal Saint-Martin or Rue Vieille du Temple and Rue des Francs Bourgeois in Le Marais. Surround yourself with the outrageously hip designs of Christian Lacroix in your room at Hôtel du Petit Moulin. No matter how your taste in art shapes your Parisian adventures, one thing is clear: viewed from any angle (or through the lens of any era), Paris is a masterpiece.

    Photo of Eiffel Tower courtesy of Jim Linwood on Flickr Creative Commons